Jordan Jefferson, then just a freshman, sat next to LSU head coach Les Miles at the Chick-fil-A Bowl post-game press conference wearing a smile from ear to ear.
Moments earlier, Jefferson, in only his second start as a college quarterback, had marched off the field with his LSU teammates as winners of a fourth bowl game in Miles’ four seasons with the program.
That night Jefferson completed 16-of-25 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown, earning him Offensive MVP honors after LSU’s 38-3 rout of Georgia Tech.
That was New Year’s Eve in 2008.
This is New Year’s Day, and the stakes – a 10-win season and Capital One Bowl crown – are a little higher.
A year’s worth of experience wiser, Jefferson said that his second bowl outing should bring even better results than his first.
“[Last year] I didn’t really know the offense fully, and this year I had a year of experience and have played in all our games,” he said. “I know what to expect, so now I am focused on Penn State and trying to figure out the plays for the offense.”?
For Jefferson, the preparation for the Nittany Lions began not this month but prior to Sep. 5 in Seattle, the Tigers’ season opener.
“I had to become a leader before the first game of this year,” he said. “On opening day I was a little nervous. That would have been my third game starting. I really hadn’t played that much, but now I am very comfortable.
“I have played in 11 games, so I know what to expect,” he added. “I became more of a leader on the field. I know how to control the offense now. I know how to manage the game.”
Behind a 9-3 finish that saw losses to Florida, Alabama and Ole Miss, the Destrehan native completed 169-of-272 passes for 1,964 yards, 16 touchdowns and six interceptions.
“I think I did pretty well this year,” Jefferson said. “I kept it consistent every game. I completed over 60 percent every game. I always hung in there, even when the offense had ups and downs. I came through and did as much as I could for this team and for everybody who was supporting us.
“We always stayed consistent in our effort,” he added. “I gave the team everything I had.”
According to Jefferson, with consistency came more involvement in offensive coordinator Gary Crowton’s game plan.
“I really started following things that coach is saying, just the little things that we need to focus on,” he said. “The big things will come.”
The sophomore’s maturation was never more evident than on his final drive of the regular season.
Down 30-27 with 1:18 to play, Jefferson had the ball at the LSU 36-yard line in need of a field goal to force overtime with Arkansas.
After a sack on first down put the Tigers in a hole, he completed three straight passes for 11-, 10- and 9-yard gains.
On 3rd and 1, running back Stevan Ridley scampered for nine yards and the first down. Jefferson then found Ridley on an 8-yard pass play, which set up Josh Jasper’s tying field goal from 41 yards out.
LSU went on to take the win in overtime.
“It boosted my confidence up a lot,” said Jefferson of the drive. “It showed me that the two-minute drive isn’t easy. I focused on that, especially after the Ole Miss game. I made sure I was ready for that drive. When it came, I was fully confident before it even started.
“Drives like that are very important, especially for a quarterback,” he added. “Everything has to start off with me to get us on the side for the kicker to get the field goal.”
With his focus now solely on Penn State, Jefferson’s role is making certain his side comes out with the right mindset on Jan. 1.
“They are very physical, and they will pound you and try to slow you down as much as possible,” he said. “We need to come out with a lot of intensity, follow the game plan and execute it as much as we can.
“Our preparation is looking really good,” he added. “I just make sure we do the things that we have to do in practice.”